Passing the Baton
At the 2001 annual meeting of the American Historical Association, Roy Rosenzweig dumped a cup of coffee on me. He didn’t mean to, of course, but he did.
It happened in the days when search committees often interviewed job candidates in hotel rooms and I was there to interview for a job at George Mason University. Roy and I had spoken on the phone about the position prior to my interview and, not knowing Roy, I’d been a bit intimidated during that call. I had read several of his books and articles in graduate school and he was the guy when it came to digital history.
For my interview, I sat in the one armchair in the room and the search committee members were all seated on the two queen beds. Roy, rarely without a cup of coffee, had balanced his cup on the edge of the bed no more than three feet from my chair. I tried to concentrate on the questions, but all I could think about was that cup of coffee. And well, you know how that ended.
After many apologies and a lot of hotel towels, we resumed the interview, which ended much better than it began. When I came to Mason for my on-campus interview, I appreciated the fact that Roy kept his coffee well out of range. When the visit ended, he drove me to the airport and just before he dropped me off, he said, “I really want you to take this job.” This was Roy Rosenzweig, so how could I say no?
Eighteen years later I became the Director of what had been the Center for History and New Media, now the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that one day I would be sitting in the office, working at the desk
, that been Roy’s.
That was in the fall of 2019. In my first all staff meeting I told the students, staff, and faculty assembled in our offices that I had three simple goals – that everyone would be safe, that everyone would healthy, and that we would do innovative work that drove the field of digital history forward. Who knew that the healthy goal would turn out to be such a challenge six months later?
Although keeping us healthy was a challenge, doing innovative work turned out to be much easier, despite the pandemic. Over the past four years colleagues have launched important new digital history projects. We stood up a podcast studio to reach new and more diverse audiences. Our students have done amazing things and gotten great jobs after graduation. And we have several new international partnerships. I am very, very proud of all that our team has accomplished over the past four years.
As I pass the leadership baton to Dr. Lincoln Mullen, I’m mindful of the fact that this is more than a leadership transition. It’s also a generational transition. I am the last person working full time at RRCHNM who worked directly with Roy. When he and several colleagues established the Center almost 30 years ago, one of Roy’s main goals was that RRCHNM would be around for generations. The new generation here has made that hope a reality.
Filling this role has been the greatest honor of my academic career and today I step aside so that the next generation of digital historians can take Roy’s vision to new heights.